What five rules of Journalism also apply to fiction


Years ago I wrote brief high school sports reports on games I never saw. Honest. There were too many schools and too many games to cover in basketball, wrestling, swimming, and soccer, so somebody from outlying schools would call the newsroom, usually the winning coach, to give me all the stats, after which I would do a brief interview. The sports editor was emphatic that the five W’s should be in the first paragraph. Those five are  ‘who, what, where, when, and why.’ The rest of the article expands the five w’s.

Some fiction does begin with the five w’s, but obviously not all. A clever writer can do it and it might be a good writing exercise, especially for flash fiction.

Those five w’s also apply to fiction. The ‘who’ are the characters, notably the protagonist and the antagonist, the ones who get top billing, but all other relevant characters as well. The ‘where’ is the setting of where the story takes place and of course ‘when’ the story takes place. The’ what’ is the story, the action, the plot, the ‘whatever’ the story is including the denouement, the resolution of the plot that explains everything; in other words the ‘why.’ 

Of course the ‘why’ need  not explain everything in black and white. Often a little mystery, or something not quite resolved, or something to make the reader think about the ending is welcome. Not wrapping everything up in a nice little bow is not always for the best. It depends on what you want to leave the reader with and how you built up to that point.

The ‘how’ is sometimes considered the sixth rule of journalism, but that is iffy for a journalist, as one never gets all the facts, nor all the story so the ‘how’ is contingent on what is known. The ‘how’ in fiction, however, should be seamless because the ‘how’ are the tricks of the trade, the things a writer does to make to make the ‘how’ invisible.

Those who are avid readers know that some journalist’s stories often read like fiction in that they use fiction devices in long articles. Conversely some fiction reads like a news story. Clearly the two different modes of writing can become blurred. Not a bad thing. Everyone chooses how best to tell the story, whether it be news or entertainment. We have rules, but how we use them is where the creativity comes into play.

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